18. Chapter 18
The ship ride back north was in better luxury than their covert ride south. A garrison of troops who arrived late were to take up positions and assert the realm's control aside the loyal Haradian army, and the hardcore remnants of the rebels faded away. So the company had a well stocked ship with room, and along with the remaining Gondorians who had borne the brunt of the revolt, they were on their way back to Pelargir.
It wasn't the hardest or even the most intriguing of the company feats since the war, but to Hanasian, it was one of the most memorable. Maybe because of the fact the woman he loved was there with him, involved as much or more than the rest. Everything seemed all the more personal. Despite the relaxed expressions on the faces of his company, a persistent sense of loss was present as well.
Hanasian took the time on the ship to catch up on his journals. He made sure it was recorded as it happened, and the names of the fallen were remembered. So too did he spend time with Rin. It seemed to be too good to be true that they were able to spend time alone together without interruption.
"Beloved, how much has changed in such little time? You have gone from fearing soldiers such as us to being among them and being one of them. How do you feel about it all now? I am curious to know what you think my love."
But Rin was silent and did not answer right away. Instead she took his hand and they embraced, and it was a long time before they were seen again by anyone on the ship. For his part, Hanasian wanted to quit the company and go away and settle down with Rin somewhere. A quiet life with no death or war. He pondered all he had been through and done, and the memories came fast and hard. He woke up in a sweat next to Rin, who was worried about him.
"Dreams, that is all," he told her, but his face spoke otherwise.
"Tell me about them?" Rin said, partially requesting and partially insisting. Hanasian paused, but didn't say anything right away.
Instead he asked, "But you have not answered the question I asked my Love."
Rin looked puzzled, and said, "You have not asked me any questions. What is it that you think you asked?"
Hanasian rubbed his temples with his fingers.
"Then I dreamed the question as well. I guess I can start telling you of my dreams by asking you the question I asked you in my dream... I was wondering how you felt about soldiers now that you have been amongst us for awhile, and through a campaign too. You think about that while I tell you of the hard part of my dreams. I was in command of the company, but it was not one I knew.
"We had become so large that we were the defacto army of Gondor in the east. Every one of us was a paid mercenary, and we had become brutal in putting down uprisings. A sense of lawlessness had crept over us and we had become that which we have always fought against. Scenes from real battles come to me amongst this, and I wake up in cold sweats."
He stood and took Rin's hand.
"I at times have an ability to see, but my vision is cloudy. Maybe you have a better view into me?"
He leaned to her and kissed her. He had given her a lot to think about. He was glad they had another day before they came to port in Pelargir.
Rin guided Hanasian's head to rest against her as she considered his words. She knew the fact that he spoke to her of such things was a measure of his trust in her. The man she loved was a deep one, and a great deal ran beneath the surface that he permitted few to see. Sweat was already cooling on his brow, beneath her fingers. He felt the steady beat of her heart, closed his eyes. He believed he could hear the flash and twist of her quicksilver thoughts. After several moments, he felt her draw breath to speak.
"It is difficult for me to recall a time when I did not live in fear of the monsters I considered soldiers.
"As I became older, I began to comprehend the depth of the fear and hatred those men bore. It robbed them of any humanity, any mercy, any compassion. It made of them animals, savage and wild and bestial. Men such as these, the men of your dream, do not wake in the middle of the night haunted by screams. Such remorse is beyond them.
"I gave no man of the Company any cause for mercy. I knew the law, having spent considerable time skirting its boundaries in a bid to survive. In the face of open provocation, your men held their hand. In the face of orc attack, your men offered protection and indeed their lives without being asked, without hesitation, without expectation of reward.
"It is not the sword that creates a monster. Rather it is the heart and mind of the one who wields it. It is the cause and use it is put to.
"Beloved, you are not a monster. When I look at you, I see your heart. It is a good one, a precious one, one that has endured trials and emerged stronger, wiser, tempered. Mistakes can and will be made, but you will never become the monster of your dream. You will not permit yourself to, Hanasian."
Rin paused then, recalling that she had just argued what Khule had argued around the campfire that morning after Tharbad. She smiled in the darkness of the cabin and Hanasian sensed it.
"What is it?"
"You asked me how I feel.... I feel alive. For the first time, I feel alive and...whole. I expected to find suffering and death when I ran into you at Tharbad. Instead you have given me life. You have given me freedom. You have given me choice."
Hanasian felt her shift against him, felt her fingers drift down his spine. It was still some hours before dawn and Pelargir and sleep would be some time in coming.
A panicked yelp as the sun peeked over the horizon roused those that slept. Rin and Hanasian fumbled with tangled bedding and tangled limbs, tugged at clothing and burst out of the cabin at a race. The sight that greeted them was, to say the least, unexpected. The source of the panic was one Lochared of Dunland. He stood in the centre of the below deck area in a state of shock, peering at a small shaving mirror he had scrounged up from one of the others on board. He wasn't the only one in shock. Men stood agape around, staring at him. His hair, his beard and the hair visible on his forearms were a vivid green. In the mirror, Loch caught the astonished expression of his sister behind him. He whirled and pointed an outraged, quivering finger at her.
"YOU! YOU DID THIS!"
Rin looked hard at her brother. Even the whites of his eyes seemed a faint green. She stepped forward and grabbed his outstretched hand. Nails too. Fascinating. Rin let his hand go and circled her brother.
"WELL?" he demanded.
"I've never seen anything like it," she mused.
"Very...Green all over? Right down to your hairy feet?"
Loch blinked at her, tossed her the mirror and darted to the nearest set of doors. The howl that emanated from the cupboard soon after confirmed that he was quite green, everywhere. When he emerged, outright anger was simmering on his face and his hands were balled into fists. Unfortunately, since he was green, he did not nearly look as intimidating as he might have wished for. Rin couldn't help herself. It was Wulgof's fault. He chortled first. Rin clapped a hand over her mouth and had to look away to regain her composure.
"You better know how to fix this, Rosmarin," Loch growled.
"Fix it? I have no idea how this happened! What did you eat and drink in the last... two days. Everything, Loch. Tell me everything."
The list, by anyone's measure, was prodigious.
"Was that all?" Foldine quipped sarcastically.
"None of that explains your present state, Loch."
"What's that goop you've been slapping on my shoulder at every opportunity?"
"It's a combination of an antiseptic and a healing salve. It does not transform men into plants. Just settle down and take a seat. I'll see what I can do."
Rin almost ran back to the cabin. Hanasian dispersed the audience as best he could and followed. He found Rin sitting on the floor. Her hands were clamped over her mouth to quieten her laughter and tears of mirth rolled down her face.
"Is this some sort of sibling prank?' Hanasian inquired, helping her to her feet. She shook her head and tried to find some air to speak with. It took a few attempts.
"No. This is far better than anything I could have contrived," she replied and started to go through her pack.
What Rin was looking for was something, anything, to de-green her brother. As she searched Rin noticed she was missing some things... and other things were not where she had left them. Hanasian watched her empty out two packs onto the ruin of their bed, flick through them rapidly and then swear.
"Both pouches, and that is damn expensive and difficult to get too. No wonder the rat is green. But he can't of consumed it all on his own or he would glow in the dark by now...and besides, how would he know that it could be smoked? I didn't tell him. I'm not that stupid..."
Rin shot out of the cabin and confronted her brother.
"Did you enjoy it? Give you a buzz? Who else smoked it with you? In fact, where is Molguv? Haven't seen him all morning despite you howling like a wet cat."
"I don't know what you're talking about. Don't you try to turn this on me. That won't work. Fix this or there'll be trouble, Rosmarin. I mean it!"
"I am missing two pouches, Lochared. Fancy that, eh? Two...I know you wouldn't have known that the missing pouches contained certain...things that were very enjoyable when smoked. Just like you wouldn't know that it would turn you green. You wouldn't know that its use as a powerful sedative in medical applications far outweighs any short lived fun derived from smoking it. I used it, for example, to put that shoulder of yours back together to spare you from excruciating pain.
"However, I would expect that the missing Haradian might. When did you flitch it? How did you even know I had it? I acquired it on the quiet. Made sure of that to prevent this very stupidity. The only way you could have known is if you went through my pack.
"Cat got your tongue all of a sudden, Lochared?"
Loch quite literally squirmed as his sister connected dots he hadn't. All of the anger melted out of him.
"Molguv smelt it," he admitted, "We didn't just paw through your stuff like bandits. He knew it was there and he said that if I got it, he'd share it. I didn't know all that other stuff. I didn't know it will turn us green."
A quick search flushed out a distinctly less green Molguv. Loch was not a small man, but the Haradian truly was a giant by way of proportions. Between his size and his dusky skin, the green tinge was not as pronounced on Molguv as it was on Loch. But it was there.
"Is it permanent, Rin?" Hanasian inquired. What he was going to do with permanently green soldiers was a conundrum he hoped to be spared from.
"No...it will fade, over time Cap."
"How much time?"
Hanasian watched a devious light flash into her expression and then vanish. She was all business again. He braced himself.
"That is entirely dependent on how much water they drink. My recommendation, for them both, is to drink as much water as they can bear and then more. Absolutely no ale. Ale will dehydrate them and make them greener for longer. If they adhere to this, perhaps it will fade in two or three days. They need to flush it from their bodies."
"And then there is the matter of replacing what was stolen. You mentioned it was expensive?" he inquired.
"Indeed. It's rare, the further north we get the rarer it becomes. Accordingly, the price increases."
"If it could be acquired at Pelargir, how much would it cost?"
"Well... presuming prices have not varied since I last acquired it there...2 silver marks a pouch."
"TWO! That's four silver marks!" Molguv exclaimed, eyes widening.
Rin spread her hands out.
"I know... painful...but I do not set the market value."
"But that's robbery!"
Rin regarded the Haradian steadily.
"She's robbing me again. After Tharbad, and that beer business in the Shire, this makes the third time!" Molguv sighed. Khule looked distinctly pleased by events.
"Your pay will be docked accordingly. The next man who misappropriates medical supplies will fare far worse. Am I understood? This is your first and only warning."
Men nodded at Hanasian's steely orders. Molguv and Loch were passed their water bottles and left to their own devices. Rin returned to the cabin to repack her bags.
"Will the water do anything?" Hanasian inquired and watched her shrug one shoulder and cast him a positively predatory grin.
They docked as planned at mid morning the next day. The Black Company arrived resplendent in full uniform and standard proudly aloft in the summer sky. Their two green members were carefully shrouded, despite the summer heat. They were in no hurry this time, and in any case had need to linger at least as long as it would take to procure what had been taken from Rin's supplies. They made for their usual venue, The Passage Tavern.
With Loch and Molguv in their current green state, there was scant chance of a recurrence of the mishap that had marked their last sojourn in Pelargir. They were not facing imminent battle. There were no matters of court to contend with, no secret assignations with monarchs of the willing or unwilling kind. No lords plotting pre-emptive action to forestall treason unplanned. Those missing, those fallen, were still missing though.
They settled in the common room of the tavern easily. Rin was struck by a sudden memory of Anbor as he passed her his old green cloak. She'd been too distracted by Wulgof's unhelpful instruction to walk like a man to thank him properly for all he had done. Now he was gone. Rin glanced to Berlas, his peer. The Ithilien Ranger seemed quiet also. Loch and Molguv grumbled about their diet of water as those around them received cool tankards of ale. There was a pause and a murmuring of the names of fallen men before they took their first drink.
The usual buzz of discussion, baiting, jokes, speculation, wagers and gossip started up. Farbarad and Mecarnil sat off to one side with Videgavia. They'd chosen a darker corner to stretch their legs and enjoy their pipes.
"That bird. What's the deal with it?' Videgavia asked at last as Hanasian settled himself in and started tamping his pipe.
"Made it for her. You know how children are. They latch onto one thing and that's how it was for her and that bird. She loved that thing. Wouldn't go to sleep without it. Found it in my pack after I made it back to Imladris and couldn't bear to discard it. Carried it around like a great millstone of guilt for years. Damn pleased to hand it back to her, I can tell you."
"Often make toys for other men's children?" Videgavia inquired. Farbarad smiled quietly about his pipe.
"That's not how it was," Mecarnil replied in his stead. "Farbarad was sworn to protect her, like I was to her father. I met her father when he was a young man, but spend enough time and you become...attached. Even if your charge is a proud, unbending, ambitious man.
"Farbarad was assigned to Rin before she was even born. She saw more of Farbarad than she did of her own father in those days."
The men fell silent for a long while. Hanasian couldn't help but wonder what Bereth would make of their current situation.
"So, this Minas Tirith business..." Mecarnil hedged, glancing to Hanasian sidelong. Hanasian shrugged his shoulders.
"Should only take a day, whatever it is."
"If she plays along," Mecarnil said.
"Then where?" Videgavia inquired.
"Rohan maybe.... have to be at Imladris before Midsummer."
"A summer crossing of the Misty's would provide some useful training for our newer members," Farbarad suggested mildly.
"Keep Loch and Wulgof out of Dunland too," Videgavia added.
"Haven't decided yet," Hanasian said with a note of finality.
"After the wedding, Cap. What are you going to do?" Mecarnil asked.
"Haven't decided that either," Hanasian firmly replied.
While they had spoken, a local entered the tavern and had scanned the common room. As soon as he spotted Rin, he made for her. Rin stood up as he approached and diverted him back out the door again. When she returned several moments later she looked pleased with herself. None of the others at the table noticed this, pre-occupied with their game of cards. The four rangers sitting in the corner couldn't help but notice. Rin looked over to Hanasian and nodded. It would appear that her supplies were now complete.
"You know, there once was a time when this Company would have not known what to do or how to be with a woman in their midst... particularly that one," Videgavia observed.
"Certainly no way she'd come and go in their midst without them noticing and turning themselves inside out. Never thought she'd do it, to be honest, given how things were when we first crossed paths. But look at what just happened. The green giant hasn't even glanced sideways at her and you know what he's like with 'exotic' women. She's one of us. She's even cheating at cards worse than Wulgof does. Did you see that? She just stole Frea's beer!"
"My beer!" Frea objected a moment later.
"Tell you what, trade the beer for this winning hand of cards..."
"Show me the cards..." Frea whistled at the hand and accepted the trade. The grin on Rin's face was obvious. She'd stolen his beer and offloaded her ill gotten winning hand all in one fell swoop. Loch, familiar with this sort of shenanigans, levelled a green tinged suspicious glare at his sister. Course, he couldn't say too much as he was cheating also. They all were. They were soldiers.
Hanasian drained his tankard and stood.
"Off somewhere?' Mecarnil inquired.
"Time to intervene before she robs us blind, again," he replied with a smile and made for Rin. The three rangers watched the pair depart and once it was safe, fell to planning.
"Imladris, midsummer, that's what he said right?" Mecarnil queried.
"Yes, which means that our options are Minas Tirith, Edoras or Bree, dependent on which path he choses to take north." Videgavia confirmed.
"Too much will be going on at Minas Tirith and you know what's he's like. He'll put duty first, of course. Edoras is our best bet," Farbarad suggested.
"Agreed... but what to do with her, eh?" Mecarnil asked.
"Surely she'll be fine one night on her own," Farbarad said.
"Who says it will be one night?" Videgavia asked with a wide, rare grin and the other two men chuckled.
"She'll be fine. She probably has her own arrangements to make... wedding stuff... you know how women get,"Farbarad assured them.
Mecarnil paused a moment.
"But how would she know about any of that? She's grown up wild. What would she know about weddings?"
The Ranger had a point.
"Well I'm not explaining it to her," Videgavia flatly said.
"I suppose that's my job," Farbarad glumly noted and Mecarnil and Videgavia vigorously agreed.
"I really miss her mother," Farbarad sighed.
As Rin and Hanasian wandered Pelargir's streets along the Anduin, they too were talking.
"So it's some sort of tradition, is it?" Rin inquired, the fingers of one hand wound through Hanasian's.
"Apparently. I can talk them out of it."
"Nonsense. Do it, have fun."
"Are you certain? These things can get a little...chaotic."
"Have fun, my love. It can't all be duty, duty, duty. It can't be relentless all the time. Please."
Hanasian leant in to kiss the top of her head and she smiled that way she did when she was really happy about something. It made her nose crinkle slightly. It made his heart skip a little faster. To Rin, he looked relaxed. She only wished that this Minas Tirith business didn't hang over them. When would she be free of this mess, she wondered. When would she be free to live the life she wanted with the man by her side?
"Do we really have to go to Minas Tirith, Hanasian?"
"Yes, I think we do. It's important."
"But I thought it was all done already."
"It's been started, a good start. I'm not sure if its finished yet and I think we'll need Aragorn's help to finish it. He really means you no harm, Rosmarin."
"I know... it's just....Nobles..." Rin's expression was one that Hanasian could not help but laugh at.
"I know what you mean. But they're not all bad. Faramir, for example. You like him, don't you? A good man and a noble."
"You mean a good man despite his noble rank."
"Perhaps. So too is Aragorn and a good number of nobles of his court."
"I'll do as I'm told, I suppose. But I'm not going to court. He can throw me in jail. I'd rather go there."
"Here we are. You ready?"
Rin bounced on her heels. They had last danced at Bree. He'd been promising her this for days now. She dragged him inside. They emerged again well past midnight and enjoyed a starlit stroll back to the Passage Tavern. Everyone had retired by the time they arrived. Everyone rose before them the following day. No sooner had she acquired tea and an apple did Farbarad pounce.
"Girl, we need to talk," he started ominously as he steered her away to a place where they could talk.
"What was that all about?" the Anfalas brothers inquired.
"Wedding," Mecarnil said simply. No more needed to be said.
Far to the north two riders marked the final leagues to home. They had ridden far, as hard as their mounts could bear. It had taken them forty days. It had been done faster, in thirteen coming via the Gap of Rohan and then up the Old South Road from Tharbad. However they had cause to employ stealth and hence could not move as swiftly as someone on the open road. The news they carried was important. The door opened and a woman of her middle years squinted out into the darkness.
"Who goes there," she demanded in an iron tone shared by so many of their kin. Life was harsh and unforgiving here. Death came in so many ways.
The riders reigned in and called out their names. Any closer and they'd bristle stiff with arrows. Though the archers could not be seen, they were there. It was why they had sent this grandmother to call the challenge. The woman withdrew. The curtains were opened and a lantern was set on the sill. No more than that was needed. They continued on the remaining distance, tied off their horses and forced their aching bodies into the cottage.
"Well?" said a man, silver haired and cunning as a fox. In his hands was a great yew bow, loosely nocked arrow now sagging against the string.
The news was met with incredulous, stunned silence.
"Where is she now?" the silver fox inquired, eyes narrowing. Why had they returned without her? Despite their fatigue, the messenger's faces betrayed anger.
"She's fallen into Arthedain hands. She serves in their army, is sworn to their king, and will wed, they say, one of their men. She was sent south, to Harad with the forces that are to quell an uprising. We two rode as soon as we realized what had occurred. Cullith remains in Pelargir to watch for her return."
"They mean to kill her," growled one man, this one younger than the silver fox by a decade.
Since Verawyn's death, her brother had grown cold as the ice that gripped the north year round. It was entirely unsurprising that he had elected to remain and watch for his sister's daughter. As those around him muttered of dark deeds and treachery, silver fox had time to think. Lost for so long, it was a wonder she had survived. A Harad campaign may not yet prove her undoing, and if she was revealed it would be difficult for the Arthedains to quietly manufacture her demise. The people of Cardolan were ever resilient, strong folk and her bloodline was strong - royal, untainted. Lost and surrounded, a woman alone, what choice had she when confronted with their rivals? Who had been there to guide and protect her? What decisions, what counsel would her embittered uncle proffer? After a while the silver fox held up a hand for silence.
"None of this matters. She is ours and by the Valar, WE WILL HAVE HER BACK! We will have her back alive and she will rebuild our people. Never more will we have to scurry and hide in secret vales. Or she will fall, and we will teach Arthedain the true meaning of vengeance."
"And if that, then what? If Erían falls and the royal line is ended, what shall we do then?" inquired the middle aged woman.
The silver fox drew himself up.
"Then we shall do what we have done before. We shall start again. We will select a suitable successor and we shall gather under his hand to raise our land once more. Cardolan shall survive.
"We must go south once more, by various means. To Minas Tirith, to Pelargir and beyond. We must seek word of our Queen and if she should survive still, we must bring her back to us. Too long has she been left without succor, without shelter in the wild places of this world. We will bring her home."
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.